What is it about resolutions - even travel new year resolutions - that send some of us clapping and others cringing?
The cringers don't believe. They think resolutions are childish, or negative, or self-hating (since you're bound not to keep them). They say you'll end up worse off than when you started. That everyone makes them and you're no sheep. That they're too idealistic. Fake. Unattainable. Useless.
And that's a perfectly acceptable point of view.
But I'm a clapper. I do believe.
By winter solstice I'm already uncapping a new (navy blue, slim-tip Pilot) pen, dusting off a clean page in my notebook, and scribbling on scraps of paper. I start my list half a dozen times, alphabetically, chronologically, randomly, geographically. Backwards. Thematically. In French and in English. I look around my life to see what needs fixing (at this point I could easily get discouraged) and when it comes to travel, I'm already sitting transfixed in front of my world map.
I tend to divide my resolutions into two sets of things need fixing.
First I have the old things, the perennials, those I've been tinkering with for almost forever: exercise, weight, budgeting, writing that Africa book (draft done!) and a zillion other things I carry over from year to year - just seeing them on the list reminds me they're still not done and who knows, this might be the year.
Then there are all those new things that have somehow managed to crop up - how to finish my house before the money runs out, stretching myself with new writing styles, ignoring the fact that each year passes faster than the last, and how the heck am I going to cram all that travel into the next 25 or so years?
These resolutions are my road map, bumpy, winding, but forward-looking. I cling to them. They stand by me if I flag or lag or get stuck. They keep me on track and encourage me to aspire, to work, to challenge myself.
Come to think of it, I've never been worse off after making a resolution. I've never NOT traveled somewhere or eaten more poorly or spent more money after making a resolution.
So at absolute worst, my resolutions will keep me where I am.
At best, they'll help me reach the stars. Eventually something changes for the better. I may not get rich, but I spend less time sipping espresso and surfing Amazon. I may not lose weight, but I exercise more.
As a traveler some of my resolutions have that extra geographic layer: they point me towards where I'm going, literally. A resolution, at least to me, is a firm commitment that I'll do everything I can to get there.
The journalist in me asks questions: What is the actual resolution? Can I get it done during the year? Is it realistic? Can I afford it and if not, what do I need to do to change that?
The resolution itself can be anything travel-related:
Any of these would qualify but beware of the Number One enemy of travel resolutions: overwhelm.
The longer the list, the lower the chances of success.
Left to my own devices I might decide to write a second book or ride the bus through West Africa or learn Mandarin in three months or move to Madrid. If all these were on my list they would guarantee failure. (Lesson learned from past resolutions: be realistic, but more on that in a moment.)
It depends on your personality. I'm a Taurus (methodical, achievement-focused, likes making color-coded lists) and have always worked in areas requiring some sort of structure, so a systematic approach works for me. Some women prefer aspirational and imaginative resolutions, the kind that will make them dream all the way to achievement. Others fall somewhere in-between.
I often use the SMART approach (often used to define business goals that have to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely). At other times it's more a flight of fancy - something just grabs my attention and on the list it goes.
Just for fun, let's imagine my resolution list included a return visit to Sabah next year (it doesn't - that's for the year after).
It would have to be specific - Sabah, not Malaysia, not even Borneo. I could even do a bit of research to visualize what I'd like to see this time around.
It would be measurable - as in 'how well did I do?' Actually landing in Sabah's capital Kota Kinabalu would be my measure of success of course.
It would be attainable: I'd have to set aside the money (check), start making contacts on the ground (check), get myself into a travel mood (always check), and make a list of everything I need to do to get from home to there (excellent, another list).
A quick check will tell me whether it's realistic - I don't see why not, if I have the money and the planning skills and the time and I'm still standing.
And finally, I've made it timely by locating it in the next calendar year. Sounds a lot better than 'I'll return to Sabah - someday'. And the probability of success is much higher.
Your approach to travel resolutions might be wildly different.
You might categorize them by theme, by outcome or result, by pleasurability, by adventurousness, by spirituality, by difficulty. They could be lists, mind maps, or scribbles on the back of that scratchy toilet paper you were fortunate to find in Maputo. They don't even have to be written down but beware, it's a lot easier to 'forget' something when it's not staring back at you.
They might not even be about doing something - they could be about NOT doing something. Not spending your travel money on lattes. Not shying away from experiences just because they scare you. Not postponing a trip just because you're on your own.
Once the year begins, decide when you'll do a quick check to see if you're on track. I tend to look at my list around Easter, and then again halfway through the year. That gives me enough leeway to fix things if I'm completely off track.
Resolutions of all kinds have been around for a long time.
We didn't invent them, the Babylonians did, when they made promises to the gods for the coming year. I'll keep making them, breaking them, revising them - and actually keeping a few.
How about you? When it comes to resolutions, are you a clapper or a cringer?